Fishing taxes create reef system

It’s but a short drive out of the Indian River Marina to several artificial reef structures created by the state division of Fish and Wildlife (part of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, or DNREC).

DNREC recently published an updated guide showing the exact shape and location of the reefs — three are to the east of the Indian River Inlet, and another eight are spread throughout the Delaware Bay.

According to the guide, the Mid-Atlantic region is nearly flat and featureless, which makes it less than ideal habitat for reef fish, like seabass or the highly-prized tautog.

However, since the state has dropped a few thousand tons of manmade materials in the area, the reefs have become destinations for charter boat captains, and productive fishing grounds for recreational anglers.

Along with the tog and seabass, other gamefish (flounder, bluefish, striped bass), and sharks, are attracted to the baitfish that gather near the artificial reefs, the guide continues.

According to Jeff Tinsman, the Division’s Reef project manager, DNREC collects monies to establish the reefs under the auspices of the “Wallop-Breaux,” or Federal Aid in Fisheries Restoration Act, to establish the program.

Wallop-Breaux garners funds from excise taxes on motor boat fuels and fishing equipment, plus import duties on fishing equipment, yachts and pleasure boats.

A small portion goes to the U.S. Coast Guard, some goes into a Boat Safety Account, but the vast majority goes back to the Sport Fish Restoration Account.

“It’s just the fishermen’s money,” Tinsman pointed out. “The general taxpayers don’t pay a nickel.”

And Tinsman is working to stretch those excise tax dollars for local anglers.

The state is supposed to come up with a one part local to three parts federal match, but he said they were usually able to calculate the value of the secondary use, or “materials of opportunity,” toward that one part share.

About 70 percent of the reef materials were concrete products that didn’t pass inspection — Tinsman said he dealt with a handful of manufacturers who would donate those materials at no cost.

So, the local share basically involved materials cleanup, transport and deployment. And local anglers don’t have far to go to find these hotspots.

The closest reef, “Site #9,” is just 4.5 miles northeast of the inlet, with seven large structures. The state most recently deployed two loads of concrete there — 1,100 tons apiece — in mid-2003. The entire reef lies between 50 and 60 feet below mean low water.

“Site #10” is close, too — 5.5 miles almost due east of the inlet. The state sunk a surplus Navy barge there in mid-2002, and through 2003 dropped another 3,300 tons of concrete, plus 5.6 miles of snarled marine cable.

A bit further offshore, 16.5 miles east-northeast of the inlet, “Site #11,” or the “Red Bird Reef,” is the largest of Delaware’s artificial reefs. The site spans 1.3 square nautical miles, 68 to 88 feet down (mean low water).

There are 66 military vehicles deployed in clumps over that area, plus nearly 2,000 tons of ballasted tires, two commercial tugs and a 160-foot Navy barge.

And of course, the 615 Red Bird subway cars that give the artificial reef its name.

The other eight reefs sprawl northwestward into the Delaware Bay, with four scattered between the Harbor of Refuge, Cape Henlopen, and Cape May, N.J.

DNREC puts out a guide with precise coordinates for all of these fishing hotspots — to request a free copy, e-mail a mailing address to (or via snail mail, Lena Pennypacker, 3002 Bayside Drive, Dover, DE 19901).

Anglers placed on the list will receive a free, updated guide each year to use when fishing Delaware’s reefs.